Review: The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition

No such thing as too much anime.

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Listing every anime ever produced is no small feat. That’s why it’s especially impressive that the latest version of The Anime Encyclopedia (Amazon link), written by British anime experts Helen McCarthy (The Art of Osamu Tezuka) and Jonathan Clements (Anime: A History), doesn’t just list them — it includes release and production information, plot synopses, and even critical analysis for each title.

Released today both as an e-book and physical copy, The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition may not be the prettiest book out there (it contains no images, just page after page of textual description), but it is a bold attempt to compile a ridiculous wealth of knowledge on Japanese animation into a single book. McCarthy and Clements have dug up just about every title you could think of (I have yet to find one that they’re missing), from obvious classics like Space Battleship Yamato to obscure ‘90s hentai like Quiltian. It's surprisingly current too, with titles as recent as Akame Ga Kill (2014). The length of each entry varies widely, with more care and detail given to influential or historically important titles and cursory descriptions given to unimportant ones. In those longer entries, the authors don’t merely summarize; they call up interesting trivia about the work’s production, its predecessors, and its ancestors, and even toss in some of their own opinions.

This last bit was an unexpected feature, as I figure a book with “Encyclopedia” in its title will impart facts with no editorializing. Luckily the analysis is short, snappy, and often witty, though the lack of individual attribution to McCarthy or Clements makes it hard to know where each opinion is coming from. There’s also a bit of a tendency for them to dismiss newer series based on their similarity to previous ones, which can make them seem a bit stodgy. This might rub new-school fans the wrong way, but it actually serves as a nice way of connecting new titles back to their predecessors.

The encyclopedia doesn’t stop at the anime itself, either. There are 32 entries on various subjects, including “Overseas Distribution and Piracy," “Gaming And Digital Animation," and “Wartime Anime." Each is filled with references to particular titles, thus serving as a useful gateway into anime you may not have heard of. Scattered throughout are a handful of creator- and studio-centric entries as well, summarizing the careers of directors like Satoshi Kon and famous animators like Yasuo Otsuka.

As an anime trivia nut, I find The Anime Encyclopedia an immensely useful reference book, but it’s also fun to flip it open and read a couple of randomly chosen entries, since there are lots of weird ones that I’ve never heard of. Still, with such a massive page-count (nearly 1200 in the print version), it begs the question: why is this a book at all? Current Internet resources on anime are scattered and incomplete (Wikipedia and the Anime News Network Encyclopedia can only take you so far), so why not turn this whole thing into a searchable, hyperlinked website? Maybe it’s just tradition, since the previous editions were released as books. Fortunately, there’s an e-book version of the Encyclopedia with frequent hyperlinks between its entries (and, ironically, to Wikipedia and ANN), a useful addition that makes the experience much closer to, if not quite as intuitive as, that of a website.

I haven’t read previous versions of the encyclopedia, so I can’t compare this one’s completeness or visual representation. I can, however, compare it to Jason Thompson’s excellent Manga: The Complete Guide, a dense compilation of reviews for every manga ever released in the US. The Anime Encyclopedia is far more thorough than Thompson’s book, both in breadth (it includes Japan-only releases) and depth (entries sometimes span multiple pages), and serves as an excellent anime-centric companion to that book. If you find your online options lacking and you don’t mind having to Google titles yourself to see pictures of them, The Anime Encyclopedia is a fantastic way to learn more about your favorite anime and expose yourself to a whole world of new titles.

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Review: Fable – Anniversary

As it turns out, you CAN go home again.

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While comprising nothing more than a facelift and some gratuitous extras, Fable: Anniversary is a decent enough excuse to replay an old favorite. But what does that say about Lionhead's Fable brand, and why does this particular release feel so empty compared to other facelifts, such as Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary? The only conclusion I keep coming to is that the "successors" within Fable's eleven-year, five-game lineage are largely considered by the fan base to be so successively disappointing that they make this particular revamp feel as shallow as it actually is — baggage of a love succumbed to sickness as opposed to a stand-alone portrait of their prime.

Ever since the initial Fable release, fans were eager for a new installment. Their opinions were generally favorable regarding Fable: The Lost Chapters, but that was only a re-release with additional quests and locations, a chance to re-engage the game's main villain in a more monstrous form, and the ability to wander about Albion for eternity after the main story quest was completed. Still, at least the additional content did not betray the heart of the game. Everything afterwards, however, seemed problematic; fan fervor consistently dropped with each subpar sequel.

While Fable II was poo-pooed by many players, Fable III only seemed to be loved by a very select few. And no, I'm not even going to speak to the technologically distinguished but vapid, Kinect-centric atrocity that is Fable: The Journey or the reimagined yet completely unexciting arcade hack-and-slash Fable Heroes. Looking into the future as if following the franchise's own roots of offering multiple paths with (relatively) wide moral berths, there's yet more divergence from the original formula with the upcoming Fable Legends, but even that seems to remove the very ambiguity which initially made the first installment of the series so novel.

So, is Anniversary merely marketing — nostalgia for the purpose of selling distanced fans on a return ticket to Albion for Legends? Yes, because out of all that has been improved in the updated release, nothing makes the game more playable than the original was back in 2004.

There is an option to swap controls with those of the more finger-friendly sequels, but movement itself is as jittery as in the original. The reengineered menu system facilitates access to items and expressions, but it can get in the way during combat depending on how accurate your D-pad pressing is. There’s also SmartGlass integration (mostly valuable only for the achievement garnered by activating it), which at best lets players view world and town maps to avoid navigating parts of the in-game menu. SmartGlass also brings up select snapshots of 2004 Albion, but this capability pales in comparison to Halo: CEA’s in-game, real-time, playable graphics swapping. And let’s be honest, those who picked up this title did it for the facelift.

The environments and characters look smoother, but the character models themselves are still genuinely awkward, off-putting, or downright disturbingly disproportionate. It’s not as though there were no efforts at trying to address this. Look at the eyes of any characters during cutscenes, and there’s an observable glassy effect and a richness of color rendered in an attempt to deepen the humanity of these pixelated freaks. Alas, something still feels as hollow as a man on the Gaveyard Path, and I suspect it’s nothing in particular about the game itself but rather the subconscious sigh of the inner Fable player upon recognition that this truly is as good as it’ll ever get.

The lack of anything new and substantial, which actually highlights the thin, albeit prettied, skin of the rerelease, affixes the spotlight upon a game that brings with it (for many) memories of a declining franchise and the benchmark that would never again be matched, let alone beaten, by any subsequent installment. Even though I enjoyed the quiet and complex growth of the use of morality and its consequences over the course of the first two Fable sequels, the static driver’s seat of The Journey and mindlessness of Heroes left me with a “screw it, I’m done here” mentality … that is until I played through Anniversary and happened to catch the teaser for Legends. The timing for these releases was not an accident.

As a prequel of sorts, Legends brings players back to the Albion of old in order to appeal to former franchise defectors. To address the outrage of those who loathed Fable III being set in an Albion undergoing an industrial revolution, Legends is set (obviously) before the original. This does away with the contested modern environment as well as the much-protested guns brought about by Fable II. This return to an older time is solely and slyly bridged by the release of Anniversary, which preps Fable fans for a return to form … at least in terms of setting and armaments (Legends introduces a multi-party approach to gameplay that is new to the series). Secondly and perhaps most obviously, the release of Anniversary simply reintroduces the game to remind players of why they fell in love with it. That, combined with the promise of a return to old Albion in Legends, seems like solid marketing to me. It just so happens that this solid piece of marketing is really fun to play.

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The Trap Door: A Man, His Dream, A Girlfriend, Her Revenge

Otaku No Video (1991)

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Ah, what would we do without Gainax? Well, for one, there would be fewer traumatized English fans of the studio *cough, ahem, Evangelion, cough* but we also wouldn’t have the studio's early trademark: an energetic, 100-mph pace of filmmaking. The folks at Gainax were always experimenting with what constituted anime, and one of those experiments was the hybrid anime/live action OVA Otaku No Video. It’s ... different.

Ken Kubo is a successful young man, he’s got a great girl who he loves, he plays tennis, and if he keeps this up he’ll have a good job, money, cars, and a happy home life. One day he comes across an old high school friend, Tanaka, who's now an otaku. No, that’s not fair, I should rephrase: Tanaka is an OTAKU. He’s got a circle of fellow otaku and though initially Kubo resists going back into his teenage pursuits, the lure of that sweet, sweet otaku life eventually seduces him back into the wicked ways of the pop culture hunter. Gone is his lovely girlfriend, Yoshiko, gone is his life of business. Now he dedicates his life to becoming the ultimate otaku, the OTAKING. Soon, he’s opening model shops, creating factories in China, and making lots of money, but he’s only interested in becoming a kind of Akihabara ÜberMensch. Along the way he encounters his old girlfriend, a new rival, and the destruction of his empire. Can he rise one more time to realize his destiny?

It’s best to warn you upfront: if you’re coming to this show with the above as your guide, oh boy do I have a bomb for you. Normally, this is where I tell you the show is terrible or it doesn’t pan out the way it’s set up, but in this case, that’s exactly what happens. Otaku No Video is the granddaddy of all subsequent otaku series: Genshiken, Welcome to the NHK, read Maniac Road, etc. When AnimEigo released this back in the day, people on this side of the world didn’t know what a Japanese otaku did for fun or recreation. This show gave us something of an insight. The characters are somewhat autobiographical, but I'll get to that in the second half of this review. On a more personal note, when we see Kubo and Tanaka become excited about figures or the show that they’re planning, I see myself in their enthusiasm. They like anime for the sake of liking anime. You can argue about their, er, tastes but they're certainly passionate.

The second part of the show is where the real fun is. For no good reason except that Gainax could, the film has “interviews” with otaku types. All of them are typical nerd archetypes, all of them are live action interviews, all of them have their faces covered in mosaic, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, all of them are fake. The masterstroke of the OVA is that the interviewees are all Gainax employees or folks who hung out with the crew from the studio. They're also all are terrible human beings because they are the real-life versions of the shut-ins that we laughed at in the earlier animated segment. Now, when we see a guy who tapes TV programs for other people but can’t see a reason to watch the stuff he tapes (hm, the whole videotape thing is an explanation for younger readers in and of itself), it’s not funny anymore. I think that director Takeshi Mori did this deliberately to show that for all the joking in the animated bits (with references to Gundam, Macross, and Gatchaman), they are actually saying “Yeah, we know this is really a waste of your time, but you just bought this so who’s the bigger fool?” I can’t get across properly how embarrassing and funny it is to watch these segments as they convincingly stumble through their questions. It’s all so charmingly sloppy that it's hard to believe it was done by anyone professional.

The show proper wraps up in a way that only Gainax can pull off. In an emotional moment (well, they are crying), Kubo and Tanaka reunite in a post-apocalyptic Japan where their friends have put together a super robot for them to escape the Earth. Really, I’m not making that one up. In any case, on display throughout is Gainax’s animation style from their early days. By which I mean, they were out to beat everyone else at their game. It’s too niche for me to recommend to everyone but it gets to stretch its legs outside of the Trap Door with manly tears, watching its favourite maid show and wearing its Char uniform with pride.

I have wanted to do Otaku No Video for the last two years but for whatever reason, never got around to it. I hope you go out and find the AnimEigo DVD’s as they have wonderful liner notes to go with their release.

On the 25th of every month in "The Trap Door," Phillip O'Connor tackles one forgotten anime title to find out whether it deserves to be rediscovered by the anime community. Click here to check out previous entries in the column.

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Ani-Gamers Podcast #048 – Writing About Anime and Manga (Anime Destiny 2014)

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After being a guest on Mike Toole's "Writing About Anime for Fun and Profit" panel at Otakon 2014, I hosted a similar panel at tiny college con Anime Destiny back in December. The guests are Nate Ming from Crunchyroll News and the Crunchyroll Newsletter and YouTuber Nick Robinson, formerly of Revision3/Fandom Beat, Anime Vice, and Unwinnable. Topics include how to get noticed, our inspirations, and the importance of puns. Yes this podcast took forever to come out, but if it makes you feel better, it only took me a couple days to edit it and release it once I got my hands on the file.

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(Runtime: 59 minutes)

  • Opening Song: "Kill Me" by Lame Drivers
  • Our guests are Crunchyroll News' Nate Ming and Nick Robinson, formerly of Revision3/Fandom Beat.
  • Otaku USA Magazine: Evan is featured in the new anime-only special issue (Fate/stay night cover), where he wrote about Studio Trigger and Hayao Miyazaki's Porco Rosso.
  • Nate writes for Crunchyroll News.
  • Nick hosts videos on his personal YouTube channel, plus he used to write for Anime Vice and Unwinnable. He also hosted anime videos on Fandom Beat on his now-defunct show, Behind Anime Lines.
  • Twitter: Ani-GamersEvan, Nick, and Nate (he doesn't use it)
  • Email us at!
  • Ending Song: "Kill Me" by Lame Drivers
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What's It Like to Work in the Anime Industry? Read My Guest Post on Organization ASG

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If you've been paying attention on Twitter, you may have seen that I recently wrote a guest post on Organization Anti-Social Geniuses about my experiences working at Crunchyroll as a software engineer over the past year and change. In the article, I discuss my experience before joining the industry proper, the importance of anime fandom at Crunchyroll, and the varied ways that employees contribute to the anime fan experience you see on the site.

If you're interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the jobs that make the industry work, check out the post (as well as this one from former Tokyopop editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl). Big thanks go out to Justin Stroman of OASG for inviting me to be a part of this feature!

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